from Specimen Days (2014)

Program Notes

With text excerpted from Walt Whitman’s 1882 volume of prose Specimen Days, from Specimen Days was composed in 2014 for solo voice and chamber ensemble. The work sets Whitman’s entry of a late October day, within which he depicts the onset of winter and his own sickness, simultaneously dichotomized by the vibrancy of the changing leaves.

 

The works seeks to convey the text both literally and figuratively: throughout, the soloist appears to have something wrong, as if sick. In moments where Whitman floridly describes the vividness of the leaves, the music becomes more excited and colorful – and when he reminds us that the scene is actually “cloudy,” the ensemble, too, becomes more barebones and stripped down, leaving the soloist alone with only piano.

 

“Cloudy and coolish; signs of incipient winter. Yet pleasant here, the leaves thick fallen, the ground brown with them already; rich coloring, yellows of all hues, pale and dark-green, shades from lightest to richest red – all set in and toned down by the prevailing brown of the earth and gray of the sky. So, winter is coming; and I yet in my sickness. I sit here amid all these fair sights and vital influences, and abandon myself to that thought, with its wandering trains of speculation.”

 

-Walt Whitman, Specimen Days